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Alleged "Cowboys and Indians" party prompts mandatory diversity trainings

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Following a petition to Student Life about a rumored “Cowboys and Indians” themed party, OU will instate mandatory diversity trainings for incoming freshman and staff, as well as other diversity awareness efforts.

Those efforts include diversity projects at Camp Crimson and the creation of a diversity awareness campaign similar to the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign at Ohio University.  

The new trainings come after OU graduate student Ashley McCray and other students petitioned Student Life to create an official policy banning themed parties that encourage cultural appropriation or acts that exploit another culture’s true history, customs and beliefs.

In addition, students requested a public statement issued to the university community saying the policy would be effective immediately. 

McCray said the trainings and campaigns were a step in the right direction.

“I think tackling it from both ends is crucial because new students come in each year, many who may have had little interaction with other cultures or may be coming to this campus with a previously established racist mentality that causes a lot of harm to non-white students,” McCray said. “On the same token, we have a lot of faculty who are complacent in their secure positions and are unwilling to check their privilege by admitting that they still have a lot to learn.”

McCray, who is a member of the Oglala Lakota and Absentee Shawnee tribes, started the petition the day after she received a screenshot of a conversation between two unidentified individuals on the social app Yik Yak.

In the conversation, the individuals reference a party at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity starting at 10 p.m. In the screenshot, one individual asked the other if they should dress up as either a cowboy or an Indian.

McCray said she was also told the party was scheduled for Jan. 23.

McCray forwarded the screenshot to Lindy Waters, American Indian Student Life director, who then contacted Student Life director Kristen Partridge.

Partridge began an investigation and contacted Alpha Tau Omega and Jill Tran, associate director of Fraternity and Sorority Student Life, to check if rumors about the party were true.

After consulting with leaders from the Interfraternity Council, Multicultural Greek Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Panhellenic Association, Partridge found no evidence of a “Cowboys and Indians” themed party, said Clarke Stroud, vice president for Student Affairs.

Alpha Tau Omega President Anthony Losole also said the allegations were false.

“I would never condone any kind of event with a theme that would offend anyone or a certain group of people,” Losole said in an email. “We have members of all ethnicities in our chapter, so this theme would have offended them as well as the OU community.”

Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, Partridge and OU Student Life met with McCray and the other students to discuss their petition last Friday. Partridge told the group a new policy was not needed, as students are already protected by the university’s broad discrimination policy.

During the meeting, Partridge announced the new diversity trainings as well as other diversity campaigns and said Student Life would reinforce the discrimination policy to students.

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